In our latest blog, founder Francesca de Valence shares how peer feedback can ignite, empower and transform your songwriting as she shares some personal insights on her songwriting journey.
I was 12 when I first started writing songs; songs with descriptive verses about how I was feeling and choruses that had flowery melodies, written on a page in my precious song lyrics book.
I was so excited about my songs. I felt a HUGE sense of achievement with each new song. I remember feeling so alive when writing, like I finally could experience all of myself. And I knew I was onto something really big.
I would show my new songs proudly to my parents, eager for their approval. Given that they had seen my little fingers play a Bach Prelude and Fugue on the piano, they weren’t overly impressed with my self-made songs with simple lyrics and chordal accompaniment. I had a big energy around my songwriting and their energy didn’t match mine. I felt deflated.
I showed my songs to my friends in my school choir. They were impressed. Wow that’s so cool, how did you do that? Can you play it again? I immediately felt their approval. Being musical too, they started to make suggestions for how else the song could sound in their eyes. I felt uncomfortable. What was wrong with my song? Why were they finding fault in my song? They had not written any songs before, so who were they to tell me this?
Most people didn’t match the energy and excitement for songwriting that I had or they had something critical to say and weren’t really qualified to say it (in my eyes), and so I created a fortress around me in order to protect my creative magic.
Many years later I started playing my songs, albeit a little tentatively, at my covers gigs. My audience became the first people to hear those songs. They clapped. That was their job and I was being paid. This felt like some sort of approval.
I knew I wanted more for my songs. So I took them to a studio to record them, pressed them to CD, sent them to radio stations and festivals, and used these songs to apply for grants…Wasn’t that the pathway for how to become an artist?
The biggest problem here was, before bringing those songs to the stage or the studio, no one had really heard these songs before. They were simply my finished songs – which in my eyes was a song that could be played from beginning to end.
Of the 30 songs I had written in total, I had simply picked the ones that I liked best, or songs that I thought were amazing. Confirmed only by myself.
At the same time, sometimes these same self-proclaimed amazing songs could cause me to panic. Was this really my best work? Was this really as good as I thought it was?
This spiral of questioning was affirmed by a lack of success in my career – the radio stations weren’t really playing my songs, I wasn’t getting those festival gigs and I kept getting those unsuccessful grant application emails.
My music career wasn’t going anywhere. I doubted myself, my journey, my work, my ideas, my choices. I felt completely debilitated. My lack of confidence, support and success, started to have a really negative effect on my songwriting.
When I went to write a song – I got stuck. I would hit a wall when I doubted something and didn’t have any tools to work past this. My inner critic would judge everything as not being good enough and completely shut down my songwriting process.
I started to creatively dry up.
I had created the thickest wall of “protection” around myself and my songs that I found myself so isolated and alone.
I was sick of feeling this way. I didn’t want to be alone any more. I didn’t want to beat myself up anymore. I wanted songwriting to be joyful and empowering again and I knew I couldn’t be in my own mess doing this alone anymore.
And at the lowest point of my depression, anxiety, and isolation I made a tiny desperate promise to myself that I would find a way out of this darkness.
I started to do that by writing one song at a time, right next to other songwriters doing the same thing.
I created a ‘low-expectation’ songwriting practice with other songwriters around me. We would spend 1 hour a week each writing a song and just find a way to finish it. And then we would share that 1 hour-creation with each other for accountability but also to give each other feedback.
At first, I felt so vulnerable. I had spent decades fearing judgment around my songs (and self), but very quickly into creating this weekly practice I started to feel a huge sense of relief from the stress of my own self-judgement. I also learnt that my self-judgement was much stronger than anyone else’s judgement of me and that when I could quieten that self-judgment, I could actually hear and lean into the support of others.
The input, encouragement and even songwriting tips from other songwriters allowed me to learn how others received my songs and my message. How is it connecting to them? Is it clear what my song is about? What are the strongest lyrics, and what feels weakest to them?
The feedback also allowed me the space to be able to go back to old ideas that I knew didn’t work (but was too afraid to admit) in order to further develop those ideas and over time gain more objective clarity about my own work.
The key thing about peer feedback is that songwriters understand. They get it. They understand the stress and the self-doubt. But also they can hear beyond the demo. And they know what kind of feedback you want, because they want it too. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
The journey from feeling precious and protective over my songs to non-attachment, has also meant that I have written A LOT of songs – another incredible benefit.
This practice also allowed me the opportunity to be heard and seen and recognised for my gifts and for what I have to say. And that is so incredibly empowering. I started to feel more and more confident to do more with my songs, knowing that they had already been tried and tested in a safe, inclusive environment.
And the flip side to that is, I am part of the journey for others too. I know the stress that can be involved in creating a new song and I am in a position to be able to encourage and support others to continue. This builds community, connection, empathy and so much more.
As a result of leaning into a songwriting community and writing songs every week, I am no longer isolated, stuck, anxious and doubtful of my songs. And I also have WONDERFUL reaffirming feedback about my songs and that feels AMAZING.
Making art and sharing that art with others is so incredibly important for our self-expression and connection. So how can we empower ourselves to share and connect but also to grow into the songwriters that we want to be?
I can honestly say that writing songs every week simply for practice and having a community of songwriters around me giving me feedback on my songs has been that for me.
If it sounds like something you would love, this is how simple it could be:
1. Think of 3 songwriting friends who are as passionate as you about songwriting. Write their names down on a piece of paper.
2. Choose a 1 hour time in your diary and ask those 3 songwriting friends if they will join you in a gathering to share new songs.
3. Before the date, write a song or dust off an old original song and practice it, ready to share. Get the others to do the same. Print off the lyrics to your song in preparation for the gathering ready to share with the others.
4. On the date, gather in person or online, bring some snacks and go around the group sharing your songs. After you play your songs, facilitate conversation with the group to get feedback on your song. Here are some suggestions for doing that: ask them to point out their favourite parts of the song and ask them what they feel the song is about. If you’re open to useful next-step feedback, ask them if there were any parts of the song that weren’t clear, and any suggestions for what you might do next.
5. Go around the group and repeat this process for everyone.
6. Do this again the following week.
Before you know it, you’ll have a regular group of songwriters getting together sharing songs and giving really useful feedback.
Now, if you don’t want to be organising people or don’t even live near your songwriting friends, how about doing this all online from the comfort of your couch, any time of the day or night, every single week, whilst connecting with songwriters from all over the world – from the USA, the UK, Australia, Spain… anywhere?
If you want to have more songwriting joy, more listeners to your new songs, more conversations about songwriting and more new songs – we’d love to help you have that.
I Heart Songwriting Club is now the name of that same global community of songwriters that I created years ago. A community of peers who understands the benefits of writing songs every single week and sharing them with each other – and we do just that!
When you join the Club, you’re put into a small online group with about 10 other songwriters and you simply write a song in 1 hour each week to a given theme that gets you thinking outside the box. After 1 hour, make a no-fuss voice memo recording on your phone and upload it to your group via our easy-to-use platform. Each group member then listens to each other’s song and gives supportive and helpful feedback for further development, should you choose to take the song further.
The main activities of the Club happen asynchronously so you don’t have to be anywhere at any specific time, and that means you might be writing alongside other songwriters in completely different regions to you. There are even further opportunities to up level your skills with mentoring, workshops and so much more.
Members say that they have started to feel like a “real songwriter” for the first time in their lives after being part of the I Heart Songwriting Club and we’d love to extend the invitation to you.
We’d love for you to join us: while you focus on the joy of songwriting and connecting with other songwriters and giving and receiving feedback, we’ll take care of everything else for you.